Effects of Artificial Sweeteners on the Body
Sugar is a guilty – dare I say, toxic – pleasure that most of us have a hard time letting go of.
So in good conscience, many of you may have switched to artificial sweeteners, thinking it was the better, healthier option.
BUT BE CAREFUL, the effects of artificial sweeteners on the body can be just as bad.
When artificial sweeteners first hit the market, people were attracted to the promise of the sweetness of sugar minus the worry of weight gain.
Unfortunately, it has since been found that this is not the case.
In fact, in the year 2012, scientists conducted a study, which showed how several artificial sweeteners produce negative effects on the body.
So today, I want to dig deep on the relationship between artificial sweeteners and your health.
We’ll tackle the difference between sugar and artificial sweeteners. Then, we’ll take a look at the downside that it has to the overall condition of your body.
Finally, I’ll give you my final verdict on whether they are truly toxic or just kinda ‘meh’ and if there are safer options out there.
So first, let’s define the issue.
What Are Artificial Sweeteners?
Artificial sweeteners are highly processed sugars that claim to contain fewer or no calories.
Some of these synthetic sweeteners can come from natural sources but are still chemically derived. They are commonly found in foods that are packaged and processed, especially those marketed as “no added sugar” or “sugar free.”
The popularity associated with artificial sweeteners stems from its claim to help people lose weight by decreasing their calorie consumption – while still appeasing their sweet tooth.
As per taste, they certainly serve their purpose well, being as much as 20,000 times sweeter than natural sugar.
However, artificial sweeteners have proven problematic in research related to health.
We’ll get to that in a minute, but first, let’s identify a few of the most common varieties.
Types of Artificial Sweeteners
Here are the different types of artificial sweeteners along with some brands that have made them popular:
This is the stuff commonly known as Splenda, a popular non-nutritive sweetener. It can be found in processed food and is mostly used when cooking or baking.
At surface level, sucralose does well in imitating the look and taste of sugar. However, if you look at its molecular composition, it has different elements that can cause bodily stress to your system.
This sugar is what composes products like Sugar Twin and Sweet’N Low. It attracts a lot of buyers because it can be used in a variety of foods – hot or cold.
It is an approved ingredient in beverages like fruit juice drinks and other food mixes. Despite this, large amounts have been shown to be dangerous to individuals who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
This sweetener is less likely used because it is only 200 times sweeter than ordinary sugar, though it is a component of products like Equal and NutraSweet.
Despite being reviewed by scientists many times and declared “safe” for human consumption, it’s been shown to trigger complications and diseases like phenylketonuria.
Also called Ace-K, this type of synthetic sugar is found in sweeteners like Sweet One, Sunnet, and Swiss Sweet. It’s usually combined with other sweeteners to be used for cooking and baking.
There are around 90 studies that claim its safety, thus its popularity among candies, beverages, and frozen desserts.
This type is used in processed desserts like puddings, jellies and jams and is also found in many beverages like soft drinks and fruit juices. Compared to your table sugar, this sweetener is 20,000X sweeter.
We’ve mentioned there comparative sweetness, but let’s take a closer look at how they stack up against regular sugar.
Artificial Sweeteners vs Sugar
On average, the recommended intake of sugar per day should be no more than 38g for men and 25g for women.
But the truth is, a lot of people’s food choices make them go beyond this limit.
And the worst part is they might not even know it.
Understanding the difference between artificial sweeteners and sugar is a necessity, given that both have very different effects on your body.
If you look at your ordinary table sugar and then grab a pack of artificial sweetener, they seem to be alike.
However, the latter has a specific molecular formula with far more complex elements.
Let’s take natural sugars first:
Natural sugars can be extracted from corn (not good), honey, agave nectar, and coconut to name a few.
In terms of table sugar, they are mostly taken from molasses and honey. These types of sugars certainly interact with insulin like any other form of glucose, but they don’t disrupt your digestive process – besides feeding “bad bugs” in your gut.
When we take in sugar, it is absorbed by the bloodstream through our digestive system. Once our blood sugar levels rise, the pancreas secretes insulin to regulate the sugar in our body.
Artificial sweeteners, on the other hand, make our bodies react differently.
These synthetic sweeteners may give the same taste as natural sugar, but their molecules are unrecognizable by the body’s digestive enzymes.
So when artificial sweeteners are consumed, they aren’t digested. Instead, they go directly to urine as a waste product.
Since they don’t have an effect on blood sugar, the pancreas reacts differently.
Why Are Artificial Sweeteners Bad for You?
In 2012, Sayer Ji at GreenMedInfo discussed a study about artificial sweeteners that were performed on rats.
Based on the results of the experiment, compared to table sugar, the rats gained more weight by consuming synthetic sweets.
This study shows that even with the decreased calorie intake, problems still occur involving fluid retention and energy levels. The same effects can be applied to humans as well.
Besides that, since artificial sweeteners fall short on providing nourishment, it deprives the cells of glucose that they need to allow other bodily functions.
When your body senses that the sweets do not cause a surge in the calories it needs, it gets confused. As a result, your functions such as fat storage, energy exertion, and nourishment are disrupted.
In high volumes, artificial sweeteners can even “train” your body to crave more unhealthy foods, which will lead to even more consequences.
Ultimately, they alter how your brain responds to sweetness, leaving you always wanting more sugar.
Severe Side Effects of Artificial Sweeteners
Once in a while, eating foods with artificial sugars can be okay. An occasional treat won’t hurt as much.
However, without a healthy lifestyle and proper diet, large amounts of artificial sweets can cause damage to your body. That’s why you should always be wary of how much sugar you consume in ANY form.
Here are the possible side effects that it can bring:
Weight Gain and Sugar Cravings
With artificial sweeteners, your body may taste the sweetness but your brain won’t be satisfied because the sugar is synthetic. So you’re more likely to eat more foods that are sweet just to satisfy that craving.
As a result, you can gain more weight.
Heart and Liver Disease
Artificial sweeteners can mess with the bacteria in your digestive tract. As a result of the chain reaction that ignites, the food you eat can turn into large amounts of fat that puts you at risk for liver and heart conditions.
Synthetic sugars also affect your hormones, causing negative shifts to your health. Functions such as blood sugar and the release of insulin can be compromised as a result.
Stroke and Kidney Disease
People who drink sodas with artificial sugar daily are more likely to develop vascular conditions such as stroke. More than that, it can also wreak havoc on your kidney function.
Artificial Sweeteners and Weight Gain
We’ve touched on this before already, but our bodies are naturally inclined to think that eating sweet foods means receiving calories.
However, when we choose products with artificial sweeteners, this connection can be disrupted, confusing certain bodily systems.
In a 2008 study, scientists proved that as an effect of your body getting confused with calorie intake, your appetite is tricked into wanting to eat more.
So if you want to lose weight, you might want to toss that Diet Coke in the trash.
Artificial Sweeteners and Gut Health
You’ve probably heard by now that there are communities of bacteria living in your gastrointestinal tract.
They play a role in everything from keeping your metabolism in check to providing immunity against diseases.
Unfortunately, artificial sweets can change the way your gut microbes work. In fact, they can completely flip-flop the population of good vs bad bacteria, resulting in more bad bacteria inhabiting your gut than good.
When that happens, a whole host of issues can arise – not surprising considering roughly 80% of your immune system lives in your gut.
In addition, synthetic sugars are linked to increasing the amount of obesity-causing bacteria in humans. They can even cause the body to be glucose intolerant.
And last but not least, fake sweeteners can put you at a higher risk of developing metabolic diseases.
For a more comprehensive breakdown of this research, you can refer to this recent finding in 2019.
Effects of Artificial Sweeteners on the Brain
When we consume sugar, the reward systems in our brains are activated. It’s why we love sweet things in the first place!
However, when we consume artificial sweeteners, these reward pathways aren’t satisfied, which makes your brain want to overeat and crave more sugar.
This is ironic because the brain loses its appetite due to the lack of pleasure from artificial sweets, yet you’ll find yourself craving more unhealthy foods such as those with extremely high levels of sugar.
Overall, different types of artificial sweeteners each have particular effects on the brain.
Generally speaking, they alter your brain function because they meddle with your eating behavior.
Are Artificial Sweeteners Bad for Your Liver?
If you want to steer clear from liver disease, you may want to kick artificial sweeteners out of your diet.
That’s because chemically processed sweeteners, especially in large amounts, can produce toxic reactions in your body. These toxins can then impair the normal function of your liver and damage your overall health.
Diet sodas, for instance, are guilty of causing insulin resistance and triggering fatty liver disease.
This is especially the case with sodas that contain aspartame – an artificial sweetener that causes the buildup of formaldehyde.
When formaldehyde accumulates in the liver, it also binds to protein molecules, which can eventually result in genetic damage.
Are Artificial Sweeteners Bad for Your Teeth?
A lot of people choose artificial sweeteners over natural sugars because they think they are less likely to cause cavities.
However, what most people don’t know is that artificial sweeteners can still cause complications to oral health.
The root cause of cavities is when certain types of bacteria in your mouth mix with the sugar that you eat. When the bacteria consume the sugar from your food, they create acid, which leads to tooth decay.
So whether or not you use the natural or the synthetic type of sweetener, you’re still at risk for cavities. For example, if you drink something that claims to be sugar-free, but it still contains acids of some sort, your teeth can still erode.
Ultimately, it’s not the type of sugar that you are consuming that makes your teeth immune to decay. Instead, it’s your overall oral hygiene that needs your attention.
After eating sugary treats, be sure to brush 20-30 minutes after to eliminate active acids and plaque.
What is the safest artificial sweetener to use?
I’ve been researching this for a while now, and I’m confident that stevia is our best bet for a natural sugar alternative.
Stevia, also referred to as sugar leaf, comes from a plant grown in South and Central America. It is popularly known to many as a sugar substitute that has no calories and is naturally derived.
Stevia can be found in either powder or liquid extract form and can be applied to various foods for cooking and baking.
With just one teaspoon, you can make your food taste as sweet as one cup of sugar.
STILL, there’s the problem with tricking our brains to crave more sweets, so I’d still use it in moderation.
I will say this, though, it’s the only sugar substitute recommended by my Lyme doctors – but only for special – and infrequent – treats.
Final Verdict: The Truth About Artificial Sweeteners
Now that we know all about artificial sweeteners and their possible side effects on your body, we just have one question left:
Are they worth using?
For some, the evidence is conflicting.
For me, there’s no question – avoid them!
Sure, artificial sweeteners can help you cut your sugar intake, but in the long run, their effects can be far more complicated and dangerous to your overall health.
It would be best to gradually lessen your intake of food with any kind of added sugar or synthetic sugar alternatives.
Trust me, I used to be a sugar addict before my Lyme diagnosis. But little by little, with the proper discipline, you CAN end those intense cravings for sweets.